2015 Citizen Lawyers: Mayor Stephen Little
By Jonathan L. Crook
MARION – The North Carolina Bar Association has recognized Marion Mayor Stephen Little as a recipient of the 2015 Citizen Lawyer Award. This award is given to attorneys who dedicate a significant portion of their time to public service and exemplify the ideals of the citizen lawyer.
Mayor Little considers his role in city government to be his leading “extra-curricular activity.” He moved to Marion in 1977 after graduating from law school at Wake Forest University, then began his civic work as a city councilman in 1985, a position he held for 24 consecutive years.
After being elected mayor in 2009, Little focused his efforts on building a stronger relationship with the McDowell County Commissioners. That effort has paid off. By developing a strong rapport with the county government, Mayor Little has fostered a culture of cooperation. Unlike with most city-county associations, McDowell County and the City of Marion actually help each other acquire grants and economic development projects rather than compete for funds.
“Mayor Little has built a great working relationship with our County government, creating one of the best city-county relationships in North Carolina,” said Bob Boyette, city manager of Marion.
But it’s not all about business for the mayor. One of Mayor Little’s favorite activities is impersonating an anonymous railroad-building convict from the 1870s—ratty clothes included—using first-person narrative acting to teach people about the history of the rail system around the famous “Old Fort loops” in McDowell County. Little even published a book on the topic – “Tunnels, Nitro and Convicts: Building the Railroad That Couldn’t Be Built.”
Although Little admits that pretending to be a railroad criminal is just plain fun, he also acknowledges a deeper calling. “Every place has something that makes it special,” he said. “That’s true here in McDowell County. Perhaps my doing this could cause someone else to say ‘You know, I’m going to dig around and find what makes special the place that I live.”
When he’s not running the city or pretending to be a vagabond, Mayor Little can often be found at First Baptist Church of Marion, teaching Sunday school to 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students, singing in the voice and handbell choirs, or chairing an administrative board or two. He’s also on the national governing board of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
All of these activities take place outside Mayor Little’s full-time law practice as a partner with Little and Lattimore, P.A.
But he feels that his connection with the community supplements, not stifles, his career as an attorney. It is his belief that attorneys “have an opportunity to have an audience that perhaps not everybody else does.”
“Certainly we can be satisfied with our performance in our profession,” he said. “But there’s a whole lot more to life than being a good lawyer.”
The Citizen Lawyer Committee of the NCBA Young Lawyers Division, in conjunction with the NCBA Citizen Lawyer Committee, provides expanded coverage of the 2015 Citizen Lawyer Awards in recognition of their volunteer service and leadership in their communities and beyond.
Jonathan L. Crook is a law clerk to the Honorable Lucy N. Inman at the North Carolina Court of Appeals.